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Deserts, Glaciers, and Climate

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Desert and Glacial Landscape

There are several types of desert landforms; they include, but are not limited to mesas, plateaus, buttes, blowouts, and dunes. The desert landscape is shaped mainly by two forces: wind and water. Landforms in the desert, such as plateaus, buttes, and mesas are the product of weathering and erosion but are also a direct product of rock structure. Rocks of altering density and strengths will wear away at various rates. In time, this will create the astonishing structures that we see in the deserts. These rock structures are likely to have angular features because of the lack of rain in a desert setting. The lack of rain also means that there is little chemical weathering associated with rainfall. We typically do not associate rainfall with the desert, but when it does rain, flooding can easily happen and these flash floods will cut gullies and scarps into the landscape. Sand dunes are also a very common sight in a desert. These are created by winds that blow the sand around and eventually deposit them into different formations. Sand can travel many miles during the course of a year and can be devastating to anything in its path. Dunes can take on many shapes and characteristics. They include dome, crescentic, linear, star, parabolic, Seif, transverse, and reversing dunes. The shape and characteristic of the aforementioned dunes are dependent on the interaction with the wind. Silt and sand deposited by the wind is scientifically known as loess. The wind can also cause erosion. Wind erosion can occur through two processes, deflation and abrasion. Abrasion is the wearing away of solid surfaces as a direct result of the impact of high speed particles. One could think of it as sandblasting. This process works close to the ground. Deflation is the removing of sand, silt and loose clay by strong winds. Deflation can dig out shallow depressions and actually lower the land surface.

Glaciers also create landforms through erosion and deposition. The material deposited by glaciers is known as glacial drift. A Glacier will wear away the land as passes over it. The matter that it erodes is picked up by the moving ice and can be carried away for many miles before it is deposited; it can be done through processes known as abrasion or plucking. Glaciers can transport all sizes of material and sediment, from building sized boulders to tiny, grain sized material. This material can be carried on the surface of the ice or embedded within it. Therefore, the transportation of sediments via glaciers is very different than that within a stream or river. The sediments which are deposited from a melting glacier can vary from randomly deposited to fairly sorted out, this depends on the amount of water transport occurs as the glacier melts. The sediment deposits that result from glacial erosion is known as glacial drift. (Pidwirny 2006). A glacial drift is defined as the sediments that are deposited by glaciers. It can be done by one of two methods: stratified or unstratified drifts. The terms stratified or unstratified refer to the existence or lack of the layering of sediments. A stratified drift is carried by the water that flowed from the melting glacier. This moving water sorts the materials by size and usually deposits the larger, coarser fragments closer to the point of origin. Stratified drifts have the layers of sand, clays, gravel and silt. Different types of stratified drifts include: eskers, kames, kame terraces, kettles, and drainage channels. Unstratified drift varies in size from clay to boulder size and are deposited directly by the glacier. Types of unstratified drifts include: till, erratic, moraines, and ground moraines.

Climate Change

Many scientists feel that the climate change that has occurred from past to present is a direct result of the concentration of greenhouse gases. They have mined data from tree rings, ice, sediment cores and other sources to piece together climate records from the past two million years and beyond.
Scientific data gathered shows that the concentrations of carbon dioxide ( CO2) in the atmosphere are more elevated today than in any period in the past 500,000 years or so. Current global temperatures are warmer than they have been in the past 500 years.
Some scientists believe that slight changes in the astronomical position caused large temperature swings.These scientists feel that changes in climate due to fluctuating CO2 levels have been caused by the solar energy that strikes the earth. The change in solar energy causes glacial-interglacial cycles (Milankovitch cycles) ,which are described as cool periods with major ice ages, that happen every 100,000 years and are followed by a shorter warm period.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that present day temperatures are on the rise. They have risen 1.3 degrees F between 1906 and 2005. IPCC also reports that the rate of warming for the past 50 years is nearly doubled that over the last 100 years. The panel has also noticed changes in precipitation over that same time span; an increase north of the 30th parallel and a decrease in the tropics.

21st Century Climate

The temperature of the earth’s surface has remained within a fairly narrow range over much of the past several million years. But how can it remain so well controlled for such a long period of time even though it can change so suddenly? By studying extreme climate changes through history, scientists can create models that will enable them to predict the magnitude and result of climate change.
I feel that climate change will have a direct affect on the geological features of the earth’s surface. Deserts are going to move, ice caps may recede, and oceans could get bigger. It is hard for me to predict what changes will occur. There are several theories out there predicting what our planet will look like and what the weather will be like in the future. My personal feeling is that climate changes happen in cycles and that we are currently on the upswing side of one. Proof of these cycles is visible in the channels that were carved by advancing and retreating glaciers. The one thing that is certain with changes in weather come changes in our topography. Sea levels will probably be affected first should the temperature continue to rise. Seacoasts will be restructured and new beaches will be formed. Glaciers will retreat; dragging and dropping sediments along their way, changing the face of the earth. Changes in temperature could easily affect other elements that shape our planet. Wind and rain patterns will likely be changed, causing variation of erosion and deposition.

Guido, Z.(2008) “Past and Present Climates”. Southwest Climate Change Network. Retrieved June 10,2009 from

Maine Dept of Conservation (2008). Features produced by glacial deposition. Retrieved June 10, 2009 from

Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Landforms of Glaciation". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. Retrieved June 10, 2009 from…...

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